A summer of research at UAB, in eight short weeks

An Iowa college student with dreams of being a physician gleaned invaluable experience and inspiration out of a short summer the intensive research and clinical environment offered through UAB’s Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Research Program.

news abby fyfeAbby Fyfe fights to find time for both sport and study. As a varsity runner in cross-country and track and field at Central College in Pella, Iowa, she trains two hours a day, each day of the week, and she uses her spare moments to hit the books.

“I am focused on my schedule,” said the rising junior, majoring in biochemistry. “When I have an hour to do my homework, I use that hour.”

This time management was useful for Fyfe as she spent eight weeks this summer doing intensive research in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Summer in Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Research Program, or SIBS, in the UAB School of Medicine. The Iowan plunged into the world of exosomes and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and at the end of July was one of 107 undergraduates — most of them UAB students — presenting their work at the UAB Summer Expo.

“I didn’t realize how much research is going on at UAB,” Fyfe said of her two months in Birmingham.

Besides her work in the lab of Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D., a professor of neonatology in the UAB Department of Pediatrics, the pre-med student got to shadow doctors in pediatric surgery and the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the UAB Women and Infants Center.

As Fyfe wrote for the SIBS blog, “The first couple of days were great; I went on rounds and went to a few deliveries.”

“But today I got to experience what a crazy day in the NICU is like. It started out pretty calmly with rounds; but about an hour in, everyone’s pagers began going off as they were notified that a mom, pregnant with twins at 24 weeks’ gestation, was getting ready to go in for a C-section. Pretty soon, I was donning a hat and mask and following fellows into the resuscitation bay adjacent to the ORs. I got to watch very closely as they resuscitated them and intubated one baby. Then after they transferred them to the unit, I was allowed to stay and watch as they inserted catheters into their umbilical cords …”

The UAB Summer in Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Research Program

Each summer, UAB hosts 15 SIBS students (from other colleges or UAB). Each student:

  • Joins an eight-week program in mentored research at UAB.
  • Receives a $2,500 stipend and on-campus housing.
  • Gets instruction in the techniques of modern biology, as an integrated member of a vibrant clinical and scientific community.

“Then the doctors were called to the resuscitation bay again … This baby was term, but born with a condition that made her have massive amounts of fluid in her pleural space. I once again watched the resuscitation, and this time a pleural tap was involved to drain the fluid. The baby was then transferred to the unit, where I watched the doctor place two chest tubes.”

“I was enthralled by everything and can’t wait for the day when I can perform these procedures.”

At the Summer Expo, Fyfe stood by her poster in the Hill Student Center, telling two judges about her experiments to look at changes in gene and microRNA expression in bronchial epithelial cells after exposure to elevated levels of oxygen.

After the judges left, she explained that she was “very impressed by UAB. There is so much research in so many areas.”

“I am so glad I was part of this,” Fyfe said of her UAB summer. “It was such an opportunity to get into a lab and do research in an academic medical center.”